Pope Francis with the President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Professor Joachim von Braun Pope Francis with the President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Professor Joachim von Braun 

Von Braun: Indigenous wisdom in healthcare 'has served humanity tremendously'

Prof. Joachim von Braun, President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, speaks with Vatican News about a Vatican-sponsored workshop on indigenous peoples and the climate, saying indigenous wisdom in the fields of healthcare and the sciences has greatly enriched humanity.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

Indigenous Peoples have a wealth of wisdom to protect the world that, with the help of the sciences, can tackle crises plaguing the planet. In particular, they have dramatically contributed to the field of healthcare.

Dr. Joachim von Braun, the President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS), made this point in an interview with Vatican News on the sidelines of a Vatican-organized conference on Indigenous Peoples.

Pope Francis on Thursday addressed the two-day workshop, organized in the Vatican on March 14–15 by the Pontifical Academy to discuss the role of ethnoecological knowledge in developing local solutions that can have global consequences for climate and biodiversity agendas.

Titled “Indigenous Peoples' Knowledge and the Sciences: Combining knowledge and science on vulnerabilities and solutions for resilience," the conference is exploring opportunities for cooperation between Indigenous Peoples and the science community on these issues.


In his remarks, the Holy Father underscored the great need to preserve and value Indigenous expertise to address climate and environmental crises.

He encouraged a closer collaboration between Indigenous and scientific knowledge to address not only climate change, but also the loss of biodiversity and threats to food and health security. 

Below is a transcript of the interview with Dr Joachim von Braun.

Q: This workshop has brought together Indigenous leaders and leaders of international organizations to discuss the link between Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom and the sciences. How are the two related and what overlaps have you discovered?

Indigenous Peoples' knowledge has been generated over many generations. Humankind has learned by experience, by trial and error, and fundamentally by wondering about solutions and opportunities. This really combines Indigenous knowledge with science.

Scientists also are driven by curiosity, wondering, and finding solutions to humanity's problems. Where the two really differ is that science has become more narrowly focused, experimental-theory based, rather than experiential. Bringing the two together is offering great opportunities to deal with biodiversity, health and agriculture.

Q: During the audience with Pope Francis yesterday, the Holy Father said a conversion is required in our world so that we accept an alternative vision to the zero-sum, conflictual worldview currently dominant. How does this workshop help achieve that goal with the help of Indigenous Peoples?

Indigenous Peoples' worldviews relate more closely to nature, especially with their respect for nature and natural processes, than the typical urbanized global population's do. Therefore, learning from them and their wisdom also suits us in the science communities.

We in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences do not see a conflict between faith and science, and the same applies to Indigenous Peoples' communities. We have a common ground. We need to both focus on reducing consumerism, because it is not only the way we treat nature and produce, but indirectly.

Our consumption habits in the world are driving climate change, biodiversity loss and destruction of nature. Thus, science and Indigenous knowledge need to address the production and consumption side of our lifestyles.

Q: ⁠Can you share something that you have learned from Indigenous voices related to the sciences during this workshop?

Indigenous Peoples' knowledge in the field of health has served humanity tremendously. Many people don't know that about 50% of our medications go back to Indigenous Peoples knowledge about plants and mixtures, which cure major diseases. That was known to many of us, but not by the general public.

What we find, unfortunately, is that Indigenous Peoples are, still today, lacking equal rights. Youth and women in particular of Indigenous Communities are suffering from lack of rights and opportunities.

What we have learned is that innovative education systems, which address these issues, can make a major difference. Education systems that serve the youth of Indigenous Peoples, and the youth of the world in general, by drawing on wisdom from nature and perspectives, can help understand and shape sustainability in the future.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Indigenous Peoples' knowledge does not just deal with Earth, but looks to the skies and the heavens. There were serious concerns expressed, which need to be addressed.

Looking into the skies is increasingly inhibited by light pollution and by the tens and tens of thousands of satellites, which prevent us from looking at the skies. 

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15 March 2024, 13:00